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2024 Volunteer Spotlight

We are so thankful for our wonderful volunteers and Happily Furever After Rescue would not be able to operate without their support and dedication to helping animals in need. Each month we will feature a volunteer who has helped make an impact within our organization. Read to learn more and check back monthly to see who we feature next:

JANUARY VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: MARTY STEELE

When they say rescue takes a village, they’re not wrong! Have you ever wondered about what goes on behind the scenes in the rescue world to get our animals? Thousands of dogs and cats are saved out of shelters each year and transported to different rescues throughout the country. Many of the animals we save come from a wonderful organization, Lancaster SPCA in South Carolina. We’ve been working with this shelter since the beginning to save and get our furry friends from SC to CT and everything is made possible thanks to one man: Marty Steele.

Marty and his wife, Mikayla, got involved with fostering and helping their local shelter over a decade ago. They eventually both joined the Lancaster SPCA board and Marty’s role as a transporter began. Marty volunteers his time and travels the nearly 750 miles to us from Lancaster, SC, and always has a smile on his face. After stopping by us in Connecticut, his trip continues up the coast, with Vermont often being his last destination. There are many months when he does the trip multiple times in order to continue saving animals.

Over the past two years, he has driven 100K+ miles using the SPCA transport van and has even used his own personal vehicle on occasion. He has been to North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and all over his home state of South Carolina.   

So, with an operation as big as this, what does it exactly look like? Marty shares, “Transport generally starts around 6PM the night prior when we begin loading up all the animals at the shelter. I’ve traveled with as little as one dog and up to 50 cats! As you can imagine, it can get pretty stinky with puppies and kittens! Many stops are made along the way to clean throughout the trip.”

He continues to say, “My first stop along the route is usually the Virginia rest area to walk the fully vaccinated dogs and let them go to the bathroom. It’s just me so this could take a while depending on how many I have but it also helps to keep me awake. Coffee breaks help too but knowing I have precious cargo is the true driving (no pun intended) force of the whole operation. I never stop to sleep until all the dogs and cats are safe with their rescues and then I will find a hotel to crash at. I try to make the animals ride as short as possible.”

What Marty does is definitely not easy but what motivates him is thinking about all the animals, especially those that looked like they had no chance, and seeing how their lives have changed. In the words of Marty, “These are the wins!” He goes on to say, “While there are many, I have two that inspire me and always come to mind...Buddy Bones and Ferdinand. Both pups are now living it up in Arizona after enduring a prior history of abuse and neglect. They serve as a good reminder that sometimes on your worst days, you can find something to smile about.”

 

While Marty has done hundreds of transports yearly, one of the most special ones involved a freedom ride road trip from South Carolina to Arizona with his wife. Not only did Mikayla come, but they also brought along one of their dogs, an adopted German Shepherd named Onyx. Mikayla reveals that Marty is also known for taking wrong turns on the way home and ending up in beautiful places to explore or a stream to fish in. 

 

Marty is married to his high school sweetheart and the two have more animals than they care to count…ha! In the free time that he does have, you can find Marty fishing or hiking somewhere looking for a good trout stream. 

FEBRUARY VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: DANIELLE VARNEY & ANNIE ASCHER

Danielle Varney and Annie Ascher began fostering in October 2023 when we posted an urgent plea online for a medical foster after a pair of kittens were diagnosed with ringworm, which happens to be contagious to both other animals and people. Danielle, who works in the medical field, didn’t hesitate for a moment to step in immediately and foster this brother & sister duo, despite the long and complex course of treatment. To date, they have fostered six cats/kittens with HFAR and 11 others from another animal rescue organization over the past year and a half.

 

Fostering has not only been a rewarding journey for Danielle and Annie but also for their three teenage sons. Danielle shares, “Fostering allows us the opportunity to save lives while being rewarded with fuzzy cuddles. Our kids like the idea that they are helping animals that don't otherwise have a home. Also, our friends are always jealous and love to come and visit, so fostering equals being popular! Jaclyn has been super supportive and supplies us with all we need to be great fosters.”

 

Danielle and Annie are hoping to eventually adopt one of their fosters and are looking to also expand to dog fostering. “Fostering is a great way to enjoy these furry friends without making a commitment. Then if you find your furry soulmate, you get first dibs! Be ready for a few “foster fails,” but do it because it helps keep them off the streets and alive.”


Danielle and Annie live in Bethel with their three boys and have rescue pets of their own: a dog named Tali and a cat called Louisie. They enjoy finding fun things to do with their kids and having one-sided conversations with their pets.

MARCH VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: SUZANNE FURIA

Suzanne Furia joined Happily Furever After Rescue in the summer of 2023 after we put a desperate plea out for help online to save an abandoned cat that was living on the streets in Bethel. She jumped right into action and has been a tremendous asset to our organization ever since. Suzanne is a lifelong animal lover and as soon as she moved to Connecticut in 2007, her fostering journey began. To date, she has fostered five cats for HFAR and countless kittens for DAWS.

“I love being part of a network of compassionate people in my area who are willing to welcome homeless pets into their lives and give them a second chance,” shares Suzanne. “Happily Furever After Rescue has enabled me to meet new people while helping animals at the same time. It has enforced my legacy to my children through their participation, which is to always be kind to animals and help as many as you can.” Suzanne loves being able to watch her foster cats and kittens blossom before moving on to their furever homes. Her favorite part of fostering is watching the families meet and fall in love with the cats right before her very eyes.

Suzanne exclaims, “Everyone should foster! Nothing is more rewarding than providing love and care to a homeless or abandoned animal. They are so appreciative and the love they give back is unconditional. There is nothing in the world like it and nothing that makes me happier!” We won’t say it’s easy because like many of us, Suzanne is a “foster fail” of her very own! Spike, who she fostered as a kitten, is now 15 years old and going strong! 

When Suzanne isn’t volunteering her time by helping animals in need, she enjoys going on long nature walks and spending time with her family. Fostering pets has become a bonding experience for herself and her two children, Nick and Noelle, as they assist and love the kitties just as much as she does.

APRIL VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: KRISTINA NELSON

Kristina Nelson started volunteering with Happily Furever After Rescue in January of 2023. After suddenly losing her soul dog in December 2022, Kristina’s house felt very empty and quiet. While she was scrolling on Facebook one day, she saw a plea for a dog named Sally who was very shut down in the shelter after losing her owner. She was “code red,” meaning she was scheduled to be euthanized as her time was up. Kristina shares, “I noticed that the shelter location was near my Grandpa in North Carolina and I considered it as a sign from my Grandma who had passed telling me I needed to help her.” 

From the moment Sally hopped off the plane in Connecticut, Kristina knew in her heart that she wasn’t going to be able to let her go. That same year, she then fostered a tiny, 8 lb. chihuahua named Darla and well, just like with Sally, she never left either making Kristina a two-time “foster fail!” Now that her home is complete, Kristina helps out with temporary fostering when needed.
 
“The best part of fostering is being given the opportunity to help save a life. Not only did Sally need to be rescued, but I was going through so much in my own life that I needed her just the same. Sally has come so far and with the addition of Darla, it's been fantastic. They both came right into a home with two cats and didn't pay any attention to them. They all snuggle together at times too – it’s just so sweet,” Kristina exclaims. 
 
While Kristina encourages others to get involved with fostering, she does remind everyone that it’s a big commitment and that these animals all deserve time, patience, understanding, and lots of love! Kristina’s pets and her 18-year-old daughter, Mady, are her top priority. She enjoys taking the pups for walks in downtown Bethel and spending time relaxing on the couch with all four of her pets at home. 

MAY VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: HANNAH BARNETT

Hannah Barnett joined Happily Furever After Rescue in May 2022 and has since fostered two dogs and four cats. She had met the founder, Jaclyn, years back as they’re both in the education field. In addition to helping directly with our animals, Hannah is one of our amazing adoption counselors, reviewing and processing applications. She is always so eager to get involved within the organization!
 
“Fostering has helped me teach my two young daughters about loving and respecting animals. We love and care for them until their furever family comes along. That has been an important lesson in responsibility and a real passion for my girls and me. Even my husband, Nick, has come around to fostering and I occasionally spy him talking to a kitty or trying to teach a dog a command with treats. For someone who never had pets, Nick has come a long way in this process as well,” shares Hannah.

There are so many rewarding aspects of fostering but the many “firsts” are what make it all worth it…that first snuggle, kiss, paw shake, etc. Seeing the trust of the animals unfold right before your very eyes is such a gift. Hannah says, “I love learning from Jaclyn as well. She has so much knowledge regarding how to approach, handle, and care for these animals that have been through so much and it's helpful as a foster to be able to reach out and ask questions when needed.”

Not only is Hannah a volunteer, but se’s also a “foster fail!” Her favorite memory thus far has been finding Briggs, a sweet tabby cat. Sadly, Hannah lost her beloved cat named Chexie very unexpectedly, and at a young age, back in 2022. The loss was devastating to Hannah and her family. That very same day, Briggs was brought into a kill shelter down south and Hannah knew she wanted to help another cat in honor of Chexie. Her intent was to foster several kitties until she found the perfect one to keep but Briggs turned out to be exactly what she was looking for! 

Hannah explains, “If you love to love, fostering is for you. It's a way to give back in waves; you may never know the effect you've had by fostering a cat or a dog in need. By assisting the rescue in saving these animals, you are providing a future family with a new best friend and ultimately changing not only the animals but also the human’s lives.
   
When Hannah isn’t volunteering, she enjoys baking, reading, and is a true crime junkie tuning into podcasts weekly, if not daily. In the Spring and Summer months, she enjoys gardening and making/canning her own sauce, salsa, etc.


JUNE VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: THE KOVALIUKAS

The Kovaliukas family joined the Happily Furever After Rescue team last fall. Mom, Edita, shares, “Our kids have been begging for a dog for awhile, but we weren't quite ready for the full-time commitment. Volunteering and fostering seemed like a perfect compromise so we decided to get involved!” To date, the Kovaliukas’ have fostered two dogs. 

 Although they’ve been fostering for less than a year, they have found helping animals in need to be incredibly rewarding. “Volunteering has been a great way for our two children to learn firsthand about the responsibility involved in caring for a dog. Witnessing a scared or shy foster blossom into a happy, confident pup ready for their furever home is a truly heartwarming experience for the whole family. Witnessing their transformation and knowing you played a part in it is truly special,” says Edita. 

The Kovaliukas say that fostering is a win-win! You get the companionship of a wonderful dog, and you're also helping to save a life. Full-time work keeps them busy, but as a family of four with two kids in elementary school, they always find time for outdoor adventures. Walks, hikes, and exploring nature are their shared passions, and they love to travel whenever they get the chance.

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